Alex Gilbey used to be a ball-boy when Johnnie Jackson was playing at Colchester United – now he believes the Charlton assistant manager can help take his game to the next level.
The 25-year-old midfielder won back-to-back Player of the Year awards at Milton Keynes before joining the Addicks this summer.
Gilbey will be working under two people who played his position in Jackson and boss Lee Bowyer – who featured at the top level for the likes of Leeds, Newcastle and West Ham – as they look to coax even more out of him.
“I know how good both were,” said the Dagenham-born man. “I was a ball-boy at Colchester and used to watch Johnnie. And everyone knows what a quality player the manager was. Coming here was a no-brainer.
“One of the things the manager said to me was ‘get ready to improve’ I’m still relatively young and I’ve still got a lot to achieve – I want to do that at Charlton, who are a sleeping giant.
“I’m an all-round midfielder who gets up and down the pitch. I want to score as many as possible and assist as much as possible. I’ve still got bits I want to add to my game.
“I feel really fit and sharp. It’s been so long since I played a proper competitive game because we finished in March [due to the Covid-19 pandemic]. We were still doing our own personal programmes but I just want the buzz back of a matchday.”
Gilbey played 105 matches for MK, who he joined from Wigan in the 2017-18 season.
He credits Paul Tisdale, who guided them to automatic promotion from League Two in 2019, with renewing his appetite for the game.
“I’d had two bad injuries at Wigan, then I signed for MK and had a bad injury to my knee – it made me fall out of love with football,” said Gilbey. “But I had a manager who showed a lot of faith in me and got me back to my best form. Paul Tisdale was brilliant. He was a really good guy and we clicked straight away.
“From day one he was honest and that’s all I ask for. He ironed out my strengths and weaknesses – what I needed to improve on. It was no surprise that the year he came in we had a successful season and got into League One.
“I should have been out for nine months due to the severity of my injury but got back in six – the MK medical staff were brilliant. So for Tis to chuck me in after not seeing me play before was massive. I wanted to repay the faith.
“Basically me cartilage in my left knee had exploded and the bones were rubbing together and causing holes in both. I had microfracture surgery that makes new cartilage grow. The procedure I had made me a lot stronger.
“I still had a year left on my contract and I was really happy there. They wanted to keep me but there was a lot of financial strain due to Covid, the same as other clubs, and once the deal got put on the table from Charlton to me and the club it suited both parties.
“We underachieved in terms of what we set out to achieve but personally it was good for me. My aim before my agent told me about Charlton’s interest had been to try and win three back-to-back Player of the Year titles but this is a chance to kick on at a really big club.”
The Addicks are seen as one of the fancied clubs for promotion despite their off-field issues.
“I’ve seen the quality in the squad already and there are good foundations,” said Gilbey. “We need to be looking at the top of the table, especially if the embargo gets lifted and we get more bodies through the door.
“Everyone is hungry to get back to the Championship, they know how much better it is. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.”
PICTURES BY KYLE ANDREWS
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